By Randy Muller, MCT, MCTS, MCSE, CEH, Global Knowledge Instructor
How do you measure the experience and knowledge of an IT professional? One way is through certifications. Earning any certification is a notable achievement, though not all certifications carry the same perceived worth. This is not to say that the effort put forth to earn a certain certification is somehow less than it is for others. They are just viewed differently. For example, Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE) has been perceived as a valuable -- and difficult -- certification since it was first released.
So what gives a certification its perceived worth? Some certifications are seen as too easy or entry level, while others have their own mystique or aura that has developed. Let's look at a few (in no particular order) that seem to have a little more weight.
Project management is a valuable skill that is always in demand - a demand that continues to grow. The Project Management Institute (PMI®) runs the PMP certification program. A PMP is universally recognized as having the most highly recognized certification for project managers, so it's not surprising that PMPs are in great demand and highly sought-after by corporations. When you have earned a PMP, you have both documented project management experience as well as professional education. You have demonstrated success in leading and directing projects. The PMP experience and exam requirements focus on five process groups: Initiating, Planning, Executing, Controlling and Closing, and those holding a PMP certification must meet rigorous qualifications as well as required continuing education requirements. All of these factors ensure that the PMP credential is widely respected.
The CISSP certification is the current gold standard in information security certifications. It is aimed at security managers and security professionals who develop policies and procedures in information security. Earning and maintaining a CISSP certification is required for many governmental, military and civilian security positions. The CISSP was the first credential in the field of information security accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Standard 17024:2003.
Virtualization professionals are increasingly in demand as more corporations seek to virtualize their infrastructure. In the highly competitive virtualization market, it is essential to distinguish yourself with a certification that validates your technical capabilities. VMware is one of the leading vendors of virtualization products, and earning a VMware certification is the first step toward gaining industry-recognized expertise in virtual infrastructure. VMware has three certification levels: VMware Certified Professional (VCP), VMware Certified Advanced Professional (VCAP) and VMware Certified Design Expert (VCDX). If you wish to earn the VCP, you must attend an authorized VMware class (not always required from other vendors) and then pass the certification test. The VCP5-DCV is the latest certification on vSphere and highly sought after.
The Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundation certification is the entry-level qualification for ITIL. The ITIL v3 Foundation certification introduces the key elements, concepts and terminology that are used in the service lifecycle, which includes the relationships between the lifecycle stages and processes used and how they contribute to service management practices. The success of ITIL is through the use of documented and proven processes that cover the entire service lifecycle.
Perfect for aspiring server administrators, systems programmers and network managers, the MCSE: Private Cloud certification validates expertise in managing and implementing Microsoft private cloud technologies. Earning MCSE: Private Cloud certification signifies that you have extensive knowledge of Windows Server and System Center and can use it to build a private cloud solution that optimizes IT service delivery and provides the automation and flexibility needed for an enduring IT infrastructure.
Just as virtualization professionals have seen an increasing demand, so have cloud professionals. The VCP-Cloud validates your ability to install, configure and administer a cloud environment using vCloud Director and other components.
Generally, if you ask an IT professional to name a highly sought-after certification, a CCIE will probably be one of their first choices. The CCIE is the highest level of certification offered by Cisco and is one of the most respected and sought-after IT certifications today. It's also one of the most difficult to earn. You must prove your knowledge through arduous hands-on labs - there's no memorization, just pure hands-on examination. There are nine discrete CCIE specializations in the CCIE Program, and as of January 2013, there are more than 38,000 CCIE professionals around the world.
The Red Hat certification program is one of the most prominent Linux certification programs. What distinguishes the Red Hat certification program over others is that it is performance based. That is, candidates must perform specific hands-on tasks on a live system and not just take a computer-based, multiple-choice exam. Within the Red Hat certification program, the RHCA is considered the most complete (and grueling) certification among the seven major Red Hat certifications. In fact, some equate the prestige of the RHCA to that of the Microsoft Certified Master and possibly the CCIE. The program provides an enterprise-level focus on the Red Had technology solutions.
CISM certification is offered by ISACA, and as of 2013, the exam is only given three times a year. Before that, it was only given twice a year. CISM certification is aimed at higher-level IT security positions involved in information security, assurance, risk management and governance enterprise information security programs. Those wishing to earn CISM certification must have five years of verified experience in the infosec field. They must also have at least three years of infosec management experience in three or more of the CISM content areas. The CISM is accredited by ANSI under ISO/IEC 17024:2003.
The Global Information Assurance Certification, or GIAC, is considered one of the most prestigious certification bodies in the IT field, and the GIAC Security Expert (GSE) certification is thought to be one of the most difficult security certifications to obtain. To become a GSE, you must pass a two-part exam comprising of a computer-based exam and a two-day hands-on lab that tests the depth and breadth of your security knowledge. Traditionally, the CISSP certification has been considered the premier security certification, but it looks as though the GSE certification might overtake this venerable certification.
Honorable Mention: Microsoft Certified Solutions Master (MCSM), now retired.
A recent change to Microsoft's certification program also engendered a name change for the Microsoft Certified Master (MCM) similar to the changes with MCSA and MCSE certifications: It became MCSM. The MCSM certifications validate skills that are deeper and broader than those validated by MCM certifications - skills that are required to build solutions both on-premises and in the cloud. Currently there are five MCSM fields. Each requires an exam and an exhaustive hands-on lab. The MCSM is a prerequisite for the Microsoft Certified Architect (MCA), the premier Microsoft certification. Microsoft retired the MCM, MCA, and MCSM certification exams on January 1, 2014.
A common theme of all of these certifications is that in most cases, candidates must go beyond just a computer-based, multiple-choice exam. A hands-on component is usually required, and a recertification process (usually every three years) is required as well. What differentiates these certifications is not only their depth of content, but also their breadth. If they were easy to obtain, would they be so highly sought after and command a high salary?
About the Author
Randy Muller (MCT, MCTS, MCSE, CEH) is a Global Knowledge instructor who specializes in cloud technologies, Microsoft Office 365, Exchange, Lync Server and Windows Server 2008.